Prove Your Ability to Learn
While sitting through numerous mind-numbing lectures and being required to relentlessly memorize what seemed to be irrelevant information, I remember constantly asking myself two questions: what’s the point of all of this? And why am I here? Society was telling me I needed to suffer through this monotonous cycle, in order to earn a piece of paper that would allow me to enjoy a “comfortable and stable” life. But, as I took more classes and continued to say to myself, “There is no way I’m going to use this in my life,” my frustrations finally came to a head. I was tired of being asked irrelevant questions. I needed answers.
I stomped up the stairs and walked in to the office of one of my professors. I opened with what I thought was a clever question, hoping to immediately prove my point that what we were learning was irrelevant. I said, “Professor, I’ve read that with how fast technology is changing in our world today, most of us will graduate and get jobs that don’t yet exist. What’s the point of learning information that will soon be obsolete?” My professor calmly looked up, not even phased by my question, and replied, “Mr. Voss, the only reason you are here is to prove your ability to learn.” Suddenly, years of frustration vanished, and it all made sense. After all, the greatest competitive advantage is to learn faster than everybody else.
My insatiable curiosity wouldn’t let me stop there though, so I kept digging deeper. I’m here to prove my ability to learn, but what exactly should I be focused on learning? I refused to believe it was school. Yes, it was important to me to do well in school, but accounting, finance, and promotional strategies could only play so much of a role in the grand scheme of things. I came to the conclusion that I should be focused on learning two things:
- How to interact with people.
- A deep understanding of myself.
The social aspect of college is extraordinary because it is an environment unlike what we will ever see again. There is almost no equivalent to the concentration of resources, diversity, and potential for valuable experience than that which can be found on a college campus.
The individual aspect is extraordinary as well because who you are as a person will rarely be as challenged as much as it is in college. Should I conform or should I stand out? Should I settle for a major or take the time to really figure it out? Where should I invest my time and energy? What makes it so challenging, is that the external influences are almost overwhelming. It’s easy to get pulled in so many different directions that it can lead to a breaking point. Looking back, I now ask myself, what did I end up learning?
I learned that everyone wants to feel significant. We all want to be important. Some of us want to be important to the entire world, others just want to be important to one person. Regardless, significance is something we all crave, and that stood out to me above all else in college. I learned if I could genuinely strive to empower others to feel significant, they would go above and beyond for me.
About myself, I learned that I had a different way of thinking about how I wanted to spend my time and energy. I’m obsessed with engaging in activities that help me get closer to my goals. Because of that obsession, I would often find myself reading a book rather than going to a party, which sometimes caused me to be seen as an outcast. I had to learn that it was vitally important for me to embrace that difference, rather than conforming to the crowd.
With all of that said, we find ourselves back at the original question: what’s the point? I believe the point is not as simple as my professor initially made it out to be. College is not just about learning in general. College is about strategic, purposeful learning. That purpose, is to be able to turn learning into action. I leave you with this final, important insight that was brought to my attention by Tim Ferriss on the Tim Ferriss Show:
“Learning for knowledge alone is foolish. Learning in order to take action is power.”